The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

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Lithograph of an illuminated Letter O from a thirteenth-century Manuscript at Monte Cassino Anonymous Italian

  • Curator’s description:


    The print shows a large illuminated initial 'O', followed by a line of text, which together make up the words OMNIBUS NOBIS. The 'O' is decorated with interlace patterns and a series of small white dogs; there is a small pink monster in the centre. The remaining text is written in gold against a coloured, spotted background.

    The print was originally plate XXIX in "Longobardo cassinese", the pages and plates of which were issued out of sequence between 1877 and 1878 under the imprint Litografia di Montecassino, as dispense II-IV of "Paleografia artistica di Montecassino", edited by Oderisio Piscicelli Taeggi; this plate was in dispensa IV, issued in 1878. Although the series reproduces manuscripts from the monsatery at Monte Cassino, the manuscripts from which they are taken are not always identified, and so it is unclear from which manuscript this illumination was copied.

    According to Ruskin's lecture on "Classic Schools of Painting", delivered on 19 May 1883, he had received Piscicelli Taeggi's work just before resuming his Professorship at the beginning of the year. Consequently, the drawing does not appear in any of Ruskin's catalogues, being first listed by Cook and Wedderburn amongst the unframed objects in the Drawing School (XXI.308). As the unframed examples had not been given an order by Ruskin, they have been given arbitrary accession numbers based upon their position in Cook and Wedderburn's list for the purposes of the current catalogue. At that time, it accompanied two more plates fron Piscicelli Taeggi. Another two plates from Piscicelli Taeggi were placed in the Reference Series, as nos 198 and 199.

    In his lecture, Ruskin described how 'I have chosen these four magnificent letters to place in your schools - magnificent I call them, as pieces of Gothic writing; but they are still, you will find on close examination, extremely limited in range of imaginative subject. For these, and all the other letters of the alphabet in that central Benedictine school at the period in question, were composed of nothing else but packs of white dogs, jumping, with more contortion of themselves than has been contrived even by modern stage athletes, through any quantity of hoops. But I place these chosen examples in our series of lessons, not as patterns of dog-drawing, but as distinctly progressive Gothic art, leading infallibly forward - though the good monks had no notion how far, - to the Benedictine collie, in Landseer's "Shepherd's Chief Mourner," and the Benedictine bulldog, in Mr. Briton Rivière's "Sympathy." (Art of England, § 63 = XXXIII.309-310.)

  • Details

    Anonymous Italian (Anonymous, Italian)
    Litografia di Montecassino (active 1877 - 1878) (lithographer)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    colour lithograph on wove paper
    301 x 208 mm (stone); 482 x 309 mm (sheet)
    Recto, outside the area of the page being reproduced, lithographed:
    top centre, in red: LONGOBARDO CASSINESE - XIII SECOLO
    just below, in black: TAV. XXIX.
    bottom centre, in red: Lit. Cassinese.

    top left, in ink, the initial letter partly missing: R 76
    top left, in graphite (recent): top

    Acquired by John Ruskin in late 1882 or early 1883

    No. of items
    Accession no.
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:


  • References in which this object is cited include:


    Ruskin, John, ‘The Art of England: Lectures Given in Oxford by John Ruskin ... During His Second Tenure of the Slade Professorship’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 23

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogues, Notes and Instructions’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 21, cat. Unframed


    • Western Art Print Room

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